The ‘m e r i’ project is a collection of photographs and stories, initiated from years of conversations with young Papua New Guinean women. Whilst unpacking questions surrounding cultural identity and Black womanhood, I encountered a recurring theme: Young PNG women often feel silenced and actively fight against a limited vision of what is deemed possible for themselves. The common portrayal of PNG women in western media is often associated with tragedy or poverty. It is the harmful nature of the western gaze that minimises the full breadth and complexity of the Melanesian woman. This creative project focuses on the re-contextualizing of PNG women. Its aim is to find innovative ways for PNG women to define themselves. To speak their truth to power, without fear of erasure.
The ‘m e r i’ project was created and developed across different countries. It was formed on Djabugay Country, developed further on Yirrganydji Country, Kuku Yalanji Country and even took me across to Motu Koitabu Country in Papua New Guinea. Although I am an Indigenous Pacific Islander woman, I also am a Black settler living on this continent known as Australia. I would like to acknowledge that the First Nations of this land have never ceded sovereignty to their lands and waters. It was and always will be Aboriginal land. To First Nation mob, your family across the solwara stand with you in solidarity and love ALWAYS.
Being a Black Pacific Islander woman is a gravity-defying dance of cultural duality. Our bones remember the names of our Tumbunas and our tribal names sit on the edges of our tongue. It is our map, our return passage back to our homes. Our tumbunas whispered into us the stars they slept under at night. Willing us to move forward, beyond our ancestral land. Into a world that is not quite ready for us.
Being a Black Pacific Islander woman means existing in the intersection of multiple oppressions of racism and misogyny. There is a level of exhaustion that comes with being invisible and highly visible at the same time.
So here she is; meri ya kam nau, yu lukim!… She is of collective power, on the cusp of collective transformation and always… always rooted in rage and love.
This exhibition is dedicated to my Aunty Josie Sataro-Webb. For always reminding me that our collection of yesterdays are but a manifestation of our future in bloom. You are the epitome of grace held together by flesh and blood.
This project is supported by the Cairns Regional Council’s Regional Arts Development fund and the 5Five.